As expected, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case became the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, a job he has coveted since his ill-fated run against Akaka in 2006.
He’s trying to get the jump on a crowded field expected on the Democratic side for the right to face off against the likely Republican nominee, former Gov. Linda Lingle.
Announcing quickly has been a trademark of Case’s. It paid off in a big win in his 2002 race to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, but he lost an early lead and ended up finishing third in last year’s special election to claim Neil Abercrombie’s seat in Congress.
Voters aren’t paying a lot of attention to the Senate race a year and a half before the election, and there isn’t much campaigning to do, but the early start will give Case a head start on building a statewide organization and raising the big bankroll needed to run a credible campaign.
His announcement certainly wouldn’t scare off any of the other potential Democratic contenders — U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz — all of whom have campaign organizations and fundraising appeal at least equal to Case’s.
The independent-minded Case has built a solid core of supporters over the years, and his best hope is that they’ll hold together for him while the others split votes in a big field. He also reached out to traditional Democrats by going hat in hand to Washington to apologize to Hawaii’s senior Sen. Daniel Inouye for the bad feelings that resulted from his run against Akaka.
Case will argue that as the most moderate Democratic contender, he has the best chance of keeping Lingle from picking off the moderate Democrats and independents who carried her to two terms as Hawaii’s first Republican governor in 40 years.
A major challenge facing Case, Hanabusa, Hirono and and Hannemann is that among them, they’ve lost far more big races than they’ve won and are viewed as retreads by many voters.
The closest thing to a fresh face with the potential to transcend the field is the articulate and ascending Schatz, who is about the same age as Inouye was when he was first elected to the Senate and is the only speculated candidate young enough to build the kind of seniority that has served Inouye so well.
But it remains to be seen whether Schatz will roll the dice on a Senate run in an unpredictable field and risk his carefully laid plan to make a good impression as LG and put himself in the front-runner position to succeed Abercrombie as governor.